David Krakauer: Playing It Strait-Laced, Then Really Letting Loose

From the New York Times

April 26, 2001



In recent years, the clarinetist David Krakauer has become a star of the klezmer revival by combining elements of traditional Eastern European Jewish music with everything from jazz and rock to African drumming and elements of Latin music. But he began his career as a classical player with new-music leanings, and on Saturday evening he gave a performance at Merkin Concert Hall that brought together his disparate musical worlds.

Mr. Krakauer began the concert as a conventional recital, with the pianist Brian Zeger supporting him solidly in the Allegro from Janacek’s Concertino and in the Brahms Sonata in F minor (Op. 120, No. 1). Mr. Krakauer’s readings of these showed traces of his recent exploits in improvised music. In the Brahms particularly, his phrasing was fresh and animated with a sense of urgency that made it seem more like a vocal performance than a reading of a chamber work.

There were touches from the world of instrumental jazz in the classical part of his performance as well. In the finale of the Brahms, for example, there was some overblowing, an effect used to give a high note a harsh edge (if only slightly in this case). Mr. Krakauer occasionally bent his pitches to provide some color from outside the music’s usual milieu in the Janacek piece and in Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint.”

He also gave a sublime performance of Messiaen’s “Abîme des Oiseaux,” the unaccompanied clarinet movement from the “Quartet for the End of Time.” And he played a virtuoso showpiece of his own, “Rothko on Broadway” (1987), a work built of rapidly rolling figures that let Mr. Krakauer make his way through the clarinet’s full range.

Where he was really in his element, though, was in a brief set with his band, Klezmer Madness. Free from the constraints of the score, and given stylish support by Nicki Parrott on bass, Mark Stewart on guitar, Lauren Brody on accordion and Kevin Norton on drums, Mr. Krakauer played with a combination of soulfulness and electrifying showiness. The set ended with a “Wedding Dance” that included a magnificent screaming match between Mr. Krakauer’s clarinet and Mr. Stewart’s electric guitar.


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